This series titled Practical Companion is for intermediate practitioners. Buddhists whose goal is enlightenment. In the previous 5 posts, we examine the importance of faith and also how negative mental states can be detrimental to our spiritual practice.
As a practitioner, we should know that our mind is our responsibility. Therefore, it is important for us to be mindful of our thoughts and emotions. Manage them carefully so that they are beneficial for our pursuits of enlightenment. In another word, we have to take care of our mental well-being so that our minds are conducive for practice.
The following are some contemplation topics to help motivate ourselves. Self-help and self-reliance are very important for our practice. And many a time, our mental obstacles are the hardest obstacle to overcome. This is because they arise from within our minds and since we are their creators, removing them also means “eliminating” a part of ourselves. This is a painful process because we are attached to ourselves and even though we know that it is a bad personality or a bad mental habit, we still find it difficult to let them go. Therefore, we become our worst enemy.
For example, some people I met say, “I am too impatient to meditate.” or “I am too stupid to understand Dharma” That is actually part of their ego. They are clinging to a negative aspect of themselves and take delight in using that as an excuse to justify themselves. When that happens, they are simply blocking their own spiritual path or closing the door for self-improvement. Similarly, we may be creating obstacles for ourselves if we are not mindful of what is going on in our minds.
The following topics of contemplation had been used since ancient times for self-motivation. We need not limit ourselves to one topic at a time nor do we need to contemplate all of them in each practice session. Simply choose whichever one that resounds to your heart and mind.
In Buddhism, we believe that the universe or the world system arises when conditions are right. They exist for a long period of time and then will deteriorate before complete annihilation. In each of these long periods of time in a world system, a Buddha may or may not occur. Furthermore, a Buddha who managed to teach the way of attaining enlightenment to his fellow human being is called a Samyaksam Buddha. Our current Buddha is Shakyamuni Buddha.
The appearance of a Samyaksam Buddha such as Shakyamuni Buddha is extremely rare and it will be a waste if we let that opportunity passes us by.
And even though Shakyamuni Buddha existed in our current period of time, not everyone on Earth is fortunate enough to learn about Buddha. Thus it is very important that we constantly remind ourselves of this fact and be glad that we are one of those few lucky ones (6.6% of the world population)
Out of that 6.6% world population who are Buddhists, not everyone truly understands what a Buddha represents. Most Buddhists are worshipping Buddha as a deity or god. Until here, we are appreciating Buddha from the perspective of rarity.
So what is so special about Buddha?
We can appreciate Buddha by recollecting His unique qualities and deeds. This requires extensive discussion and will not be covered here. When we understand what a Buddha truly represents, we realise that Buddha is not simply a wise human being or an enlightened man. Throughout the history of mankind, he was the first and only one. The founder of Buddhism.
If you know Buddha Dharma, then you understand what Buddha represents. That means you are a subset of that 6.6% world population who called themselves Buddhists. Therefore, it is even rarer to be.
Some Buddhists may learn about the history or autobiography of Shakyamuni Buddha, but they do not know what Buddha taught. Not to mention the techniques of attaining enlightenment. Most people simply do not have the opportunity to learn from a qualified teacher.
If we are training ourselves to become enlightened after learning certain techniques, then it is important for us to treasure them and not take those methods for granted.
In that manner, encountering Dharma is rare, having faith in the Dharma and actually practicing them is rarer still.
Similar to the above contemplation about (Buddha), we should also know the qualities of Dharma. Unfortunately, it will be a long topic and will not be discussed here. In a nutshell, Buddha Dharma points us toward the Ultimate Truth of existence and resolved the longest question in man’s mind. “Who am I”, “What is the purpose of life” etc.
Sangha refers to enlightened disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. All the Buddha Dharma in this world originated from Shakyamuni Buddha. Therefore, all of us trace our roots to Him. Practitioners who attained enlightenment are the Sangha. To encounter an enlightened master is the rarest.
They are living testimony of enlightenment. If we have the good fortune of encountering them while they are alive and we have the wisdom to learn from them. We become that rarest handful of human beings out of the entire world population.
Therefore, we ought to understand our good fortune and treasure it well.
From the above, it is pretty obvious why Buddhists consider Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as precious Gems. A person who happens to chance upon a precious gem and fails to recognize its value or utilize them well is therefore considered foolish.
As a topic of contemplation, we think about the aeon in a world system, the rare appearance of Samyaksam Buddha, the rarity of learning about the Triple Gems, and the rarity of practicing Dharma. Then we remind ourselves to treasure our rare opportunity and not let it go to waste.
Another topic for contemplation is our precious human life. Previously, we talk about the rarity of a practitioner in terms of the human population. In this contemplation, we intensify the rarity by including all other forms of sentient beings, such as animals and insects, unseen beings, etc.
The objective of this contemplation is not to feel pride but to understand the rarity of our circumstances.
Why is a human being so special from the Buddhist perspective?
Human being has a fragile physical body and the intellect and mental capacity to break through the delusion of samsara. The other forms of sentient beings do not possess similar body or mental capacity.
This contemplation is similar to appreciating the mathematical probability of being a practicing Buddhist out of the limitless other possible modes of existences.
Next, we remind ourselves that life is impermanent. There is no guarantee that today won’t be our last day. Once our life end, there is no guarantee that we will be reborn humans again. And even if we are human again, there is no guarantee that we will encounter Buddha Dharma again.
The objective of this contemplation is to motivate ourselves into treasuring our limited time as human beings and using whatever limited time we have to practice.
What is expected of us after we contemplate the above and successfully generate a sense of urgency in our mind?
Well, practice! If we practice chanting, then we urgently train our minds to focus on our mantra. Stop the mind from delusive thinking. If we practice mindfulness, we want to maintain that equilibrium of mental clarity. If we practice breathing meditation, we want to be mindful of our breathe.
The common objective of all the above is to stop our minds from being carried away by our endless train of thoughts. (Aka delusive thinking) It doesn’t matter if we are laymen or monks. Same objective. It doesn’t matter if we are retired or busy at work. Same objective. We practice and gradually build up our mindfulness and concentration power.
As Buddhists, we can contemplate the above topics to gain an appreciation of our spiritual fortune. Since we are unenlightened, it is easy for us to forget the precious qualities of the Triple Gems. Therefore, it becomes necessary for us to recollect their qualities constantly.
Once we are reminded of their precious qualities, we can remind ourselves of their rarity.
Then we can fully appreciate our good fortune in encountering the Triple Gems. Following that, we generate a sense of urgency to practice. Otherwise, we might miss our short window period as Buddhists and be lost in the endless cycle of Samsaric existence again.
May all be well and happy.